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You do not need to travel

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Both my passport and national ID are expiring this month, so I did what I had to do and took an appointment with the local Mairie to get them renewed. Appointment taken for 8:30 this morning.

If you have ever dealt with French administrations, you know the drill: you stand in line for several hours and when your turn finally comes, you discover that you needed one more paper, so you go back home and start again. Count 2-3 times minimum for standard procedures, 4-5 times on average. I love nothing more than this blessed moment when the fonctionnaire in front of you realizes that you finally have all the requested papers and they will not be able to say: “Sorry, I can’t process your request”, because they have to do actual work. In general they sigh heavily and take all their time to do their job.

I was prepared this morning, having every possible official document they might request and several copies of each. I carefully followed the instructions on the official web site, printed the forms, filled up whatever I could, I signed everything, and made more copies.

8:29 I was standing in the town hall.

The front desk clerk was a middle-aged lady who was sitting at her desk, blankly staring at nothing. I asked:

– Good morning. Is it open yet?
– No sir. We open at 8:30
She resumed her staring, in an impressive state of nothingness.
I checked the clock behind her, staring for 30 long seconds, then asked again:
– Good morning. Is it open yet?
– No… Er… Wait
She absent-mindedly clicked her mouse to open her session and sighed:
– What do you need?
– I have an appointment to renew my passport.
– Ok, here are some forms to fill. You can sit over there and…
– I have printed those forms myself and filled everything, so what next?
– Here is your ticket. Go wait over there.

I respectfully sat and started counting my documents again, when a bell called me to desk number 8.

The lady at desk number 8 looked a bit stressed. She tried to speak as fast as possible but only managed to mumble and strived to repeat everything she said.

– No need to stress, Madam, this is just a standard passport renewal procedure.
– Yes but you need to know that everything we do is strictly timed from now
on to improve our productivity. I need to do things as fast as possible.
– Sure. Great! How can I help?
– Show me all your papers. You forgot your birth certificate, right?
– No, actually here it is.
– Certainly you forgot to make copies?
– Nope. Here they are.
– You most probably forgot the tax stamps, didn’t you?
– Nope, there: 86 euros.

This dance went on for several minutes. She kept asking me to confirm that I forgot something while I kept handing papers over. I could see her face decomposing as she was faced with the fact that she would have to perform the complete gig.

After five frantic minutes of typing and scanning papers, she declared the round over.

– There you go. Your passport will be ready in three weeks.
– Ok. Now on to the national ID card renewal.
– Wait… What? You can only renew your passport!
– Well actually no. My ID card will expire next month. And I have all the papers, see? Same ones for passport.
– But… but… but that is impossible! You only took an appointment for passport renewal, this is going to kill my average!
– Ok… Let’s take another appointment, then.
– No I cannot do that! Anyway I cannot process a national ID card since your forms are filled on paper.
– … and?
– They need to be printed on cardboard!
– How the hell would I know that? Is that stated anywhere on your web site?
– No, the cardboard forms can only be obtained here.
– er… great, so where do I get them?
– That would be with my colleague but she is not there today. Goodbye.

Not answering that, I went to see the front desk lady before she feel asleep and asked her for cardboard forms. She immediately gave me one. Back to Lady number 8.

– Are those the right forms?
– (sigh) Yes…

I filled up the forms and handed them to her.

– You forgot to provide copies of your passport and national ID card!
– Nope, see: there are right there. The same ones you used for the passport renewal.
– Sorry, but the same copies cannot be used for both. Goodbye.
– Lady, you just scanned the copies and handed them back to me, why can’t you use them for another request?
– Because I need new copies. Goodbye.

Not answering that, I stood up and when to the copy machine next to her, flipped a few coins in, copied both passport and national ID card again, and went back to Lady number 8.

– There. Anything else missing?
– (mumbling)

Lady number 8 started reading my forms, then raised her head with a large smile and declared: “This is wrong! You see, you were born in France and you declared that…”. I interrupted her: “Lady, I was not born in France.”

She looked a bit puzzled, scanned my form again, then silently proceeded to stamp all the papers. After a while, she just stopped and said, victorious:

– You cannot renew your ID card! It will not expire until 2019!
– Then why is it written “Expires 01 Nov 2014” at the back?
– New law! New law! Since the 1st of Jan this year, all ID cards have been extended 5 more years. You do not need to renew. Goodbye.
– Wait… What happens when I want to cross a border and I can’t because my official papers are expired?
– You won’t have the issue because the cards are valid five more years.
– Do all borders know around Europe?
– In the Schengen area, they all do.
– What about the UK and Switzerland?
– None of my business. They just need to do their jobs.

She rummaged through her computer and called up an official web page from the ministry of foreign affairs, effectively declaring that old national ID cards are now valid five more years. The same site sports a large paragraph saying: “However, it has come to our understanding that some nationals have run into trouble when trying to cross borders with papers that officially expired. If you are planning on travelling, it is recommended to use your passport instead.”

– See? See? You do not need to renew your ID card!
– So… I would need to use my passport then?
– Yes! Goodbye!
– Are we talking about the passport you just took away from me?

At that point she refused to answer and called her superior, a small and large lady with a stern face who decided to tell me NO before she even knew what it was about. Lady number 8 explained: “This person wants to renew a national ID card and does not want to believe me when I say it is still valid 5 more years!”. Stern lady paused for a moment, then looked at me and said:

“You do not need a national ID card.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You do not need to travel, Sir.”

This is when I knew we had exited our normal world to fall into some stern lady’s conception of reality.

Completely overpowered by her last argument, I took back all the papers left on Lady number 8’s desk, tossed them in my bag, and left the building. I can cope with some level of stupidity but this get far beyond my reach. From now on I will have to make do without a national ID card.

Written by nicolas314

Monday 29 September 2014 at 3:01 pm

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